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Debate on prisoner's right to vote

In Canada's early days, only a select group of privileged men could vote. Now it's a fundamental right for all Canadians over 18. Women, Asians, native people and prisoners were among those who gained the right to vote in Canadian elections over the past century — often amid controversy. CBC Archives explores the evolution of voting rights in Canada.

media clip
Gary Rosenfeldt doesn't think prisoners should have the right to vote. As executive director of Victims of Violence and the father of a teenager murdered by serial killer Clifford Olsen, Rosenfeldt feels strongly about this issue. On the other side of the debate, Winnipeg lawyer Jeff Gindin points out that "The Charter of Rights is not an elitist document; it's supposed to be for everyone." This 1995 CBC Television debate from Winnipeg looks at a topic that's been highly contentious since the 1980s. 
• Prisoners in Canada had previously been barred from voting since 1898.
• At the time this clip (1995), the Canada Elections Act had prohibited "every person undergoing punishment as an inmate in any penal institution for the commission of any offence" from voting in federal elections.

• After the Charter of Rights and Freedoms was passed in 1982, prisoner Rick Sauvé launched what was to become a well publicized 18-year-long fight for prisoners' voting rights in Canada.

• The main argument for prisoner voting rights was that prisoners are citizens, and every citizen is guaranteed the right to vote, so prisoners should therefore be able to vote. Many advocates also pointed out that the majority of prisoners aren't serial killers in prison for life; most will be back in mainstream society at some point. So, getting them involved in the voting process will help them feel they have a say in the society they will eventually be a part of again.

• Those opposed to prisoner voting rights feel that people who commit crimes have forfeited their right to vote. As one victim's rights' group member said in a 1988 CBC Television report, "Murderers should get the right to vote as soon as their victims do." Calgary professor F.L. Morton has been very outspoken on the issue. In a 2002 National Post article, he said giving prisoners the right to vote was "both an absurdity and an insult…it is an insult to law-abiding citizens."
Medium: Television
Program: 24 Hours
Broadcast Date: May 25, 1995
Guest(s): Jeff Gindin, Gary Rosenfeldt
Host: Diana Swain
Duration: 5:28

Last updated: March 5, 2012

Page consulted on September 10, 2014

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